Monday, 23 January 2017
This year's picture, Pinks and Clematis in a Crystal Vase, is one of many beautiful flower paintings Manet executed in his long final illness. It was painted in 1882 and now hangs in the Musée d'Orsay. As with most of these late studies, the arrangement of the flowers seems artless and casual, as if Manet is happy to paint whatever comes his way, to absorb it with his hungry gaze and recreate it in paint. These are flowers put in a vase with little thought - you can even see the twine still on the bunch that forms part of this display - but glorified by Manet's art, by the rapt attention he directs on them and on the crystal vase in which they stand. These paintings are almost as much studies of light on glass and water as they are of flowers. They radiate light; casual though they seem, they are a kind of apotheosis of flower painting.
A few years ago the Royal Academy staged a fine exhibition of Manet's portraits. I do wish they'd devote one to his flower paintings - it would be a surefire hit and, more importantly, a wonderful aesthetic experience.